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Where does CX fit in?

Published by Tom Uhlhorn on
Where does CX fit in?

"Customer Experience", it's already a dreaded word for many CEOs. Like "digital" before it, "CX" can come across as a loaded term: everyone knows that it's important, but everyone also has their own definition of it.

This article, as such, is intended for both the CEOs, board members, and employees who are being advised to invest in CX for their organisation as well as the CEOs, board members, and employees who are trying to lead a CX transformation.

Let's avoid the mistakes of the past, when companies used "the digital revolution" to build $500,000 apps that the market never wanted.

This article is a stream of consciousness, and happened when I sat back and objectively asked myself what CX is, if it's important, and what the future of "customer experience" entails.

What is CX?

There is a more technical definition on our website, but I've written the below for simplicity's sake:

"CX is the combination of Marketing academia and Human Centred Design."

Please note that this article is not intended as an exploration of the definition of CX.

Why, then, is CX needed?

In my experience, there are two consistently-referenced arguments for CX:

  1. Focusing on the customer is what people like Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs attribute(d) to their success;
  2. "CX" compromises of the end-to-end customer journey.

Taking those into account, the next logical question to ask is, "how is it done at the companies that do it well?"

The traits of great customer experience providers

The best CX providers are all "curators", and by that I mean that they create an environment that enables the customer to partake in an enjoyable path to an outcome. A few examples of what I mean by this:

  1. 7/11's distribution strategy and consistency of product availability means that my path to buying a Maxibon is consistently easy, consistently priced, and consistently accessible (geographically);
  2. Aesop's in-store consulting environment creates a path to using a product that I have 100% confidence is going to ensure my face doesn't break out in pimples;
  3. The Iconic's online browsing-to-delivery experience provides me with the confidence that the shirt I buy is going to fit me, is going to arrive soon, and is a good price.

In all of these examples, no one is "selling" to me. Rather, the brand has created an environment that has nudged me through certain milestones in order to create a mutually valuable experience (I pay money for all of the above experiences).

If we could distil CX down to its essence, I would argue that "curation" is at the heart of all CX programs. To my knowledge, none of the brands mentioned in the example above have a specific "CX" department or role, yet they all manage to deliver, in my opinion, a compelling customer experience.

The one thing that all of these brands do have a mixture of is:

  1. Marketing
  2. UX
  3. Service Design
  4. Product Management

And therein lies the hint to the secret of CX: it is these functions that are delivering CX success (even if they don't know it), and these functions that hold the key to the future of CX.

CX vs. UX vs. Service Design vs. Product Management vs. Marketing

This logic leads me to the number one thing I am asked by service designers, marketers, UX designers, and product managers, "how does CX differ from UX/SD/Marketing/PM?". It's a good question, and a frequent one, so I decided to make a diagram to explain the difference:

*Note that there are exceptions to the rule in these cases and this is intended as an indicator to help explain the difference between the disciplines, rather than a hard set of rules.

The shortest way to explain this diagram is to explain why each of the siloed functions don't do what CX does:

  1. Service Design isn't CX because it isn't strong in brand strategy, organisational structure, or pricing strategy;
  2. UX isn't CX because it doesn't cater to non-digital experiences and isn't strong in brand strategy, organisational structure, or pricing strategy;
  3. Brand/Marketing isn't CX because its remit usually stops at the sale (i.e. doesn't cover post-sale experiences) and is increasingly communications and activations-focussed;
  4. Product Management, depending on the organisation, may or may not have permission to be performing a marketing/acquisition function (although they are a dark horse to take the CX mantle, as you will read).

(Please note that the above bullet points are not meant to be definitive: I am aware that there are exceptions to the rule and that defining what each stream does/doesn't do is worthy of another article. If you would like to contribute to that article (or write it yourself), please hit me up and we can collaborate).

What CX does that the others don't.. tie all these disciplines together.

As a marketer with a post-graduate degree in marketing, let me be the first to acknowledge, "CX is what marketing should be". If we look at the AMA's definition of marketing, you'd be forgiven for being surprised at the scope that a marketer's role should have:

"Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large."

However, for pragmatic purposes, I'm going to define "marketing" and "brand" as an acquisition-oriented discipline (hell, everyone else does).

Where silos have been created, CX bridges the gap. It looks at every possible angle of the customer journey to ensure that value is being created and, if possible, exchanged with the customer.

How then, can we implement CX into our businesses? What is the path of least resistance when it comes to determining how your organisation can invest in CX?

1. CX as a department

One of the ramifications of CX as a cross-functional discipline is that the notion of "CX" as a department only works if:

  1. All other disciplines work underneath it; or
  2. It serves as a cross-departmental support function

Pragmatically, both of these solutions have their limitations.

Solution one is a huge restructure for any organisation larger than 50 people. It also, in my opinion, is yet to be proven to work at-scale and is therefore also a risky option.

Solution two is a nice concept, but a limitation that can occur is that it doesn't hold enough people accountable to the customer. Ideally, there is a role where "the buck stops" when it comes to accountability to the customer, and distributing this can lead to a confusing customer (and employee) experience.

2. CX as a function of Product Managers

This is actually my favourite potential solution to how to incorporate CX into a small organisation or a large organisation with a small range of products.

Generally, Product Managers already have the remit to be responsible for the end-to-end customer journey; role remit, in my opinion, is harder to change in an organisation than an individual's skill set, which makes the Product Manager candidate #1 for CX responsibility in my books.

They are also tied to the success of a product, and are therefore inherently motivated to utilise every possible tool, mindset, and process available to them to increase the chances of launching and scaling a successful product.

Finally, in product management, "services" and "products" are already classified as one and the same, so including "experiences" isn't much of a stretch. All you really need to do is read the 1998 Joe Pine & James Gilmore article on HBR and you understand what "the experience" economy can do for your product.

3. Marketing rebranding as CX

For larger organisations, implementing a Product Management team as the custodian of the entire Customer Experience is not feasible. In such cases, I am a strong advocate for upskilling the Marketing department and giving them the remit to be responsible for the customer throughout the entire journey (generally, they're already accountable, so why not give them every chance to succeed?).

If CX is, as I put at the start of this article, "the combination of Marketing academia and Human Centred Design", then it's not a great leap for the marketing function to take back control of the customer and be ultimately accountable for the two goals of a transition into "the experience economy":

  1. Increased market differentiation;
  2. Increased value

For marketers to get serious about this, they need to embrace Human Centred Design and incorporate it into their own practice. In my experience, marketers love to talk about the power of disruption and the benefits of HCD, but are very poor at practicing what they preach and tend to favour awards over results.

Full disclosure for angry marketers: I am a marketer myself. There are great marketers out there that do this, and you might be one of them, but for every great marketer there are 50 shitty ones: you're in the minority and those you work with likely have a very different perception of marketing as to what you do.

4. CX as an executive function

This is an interesting idea: the CEO (for example) being ultimately accountable to customer success. I think that this would work from a cultural perspective, and could result in customer-centricity being instilled into every corner of an organisation.

If you think back to my examples at the start, I cited two famous CEOs in Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos and how their success is self-attributed to their unwavering commitment to the customer.

Is "CX" something that we should be teaching at an MBA level? I am a fan of this idea, but I don't think that it's a silver bullet solution and, quite frankly, highly unlikely to happen until we have an agreed-upon global "best practice" when it comes to CX (for those interested, the Tiny CX CXecklist™ framework is our proposed solution to this very problem).

5. Agency CX vs. Consultancy CX

I own a CX consultancy, and the reason that we define ourselves as a consultancy and not an agency is because we focus on capability & knowledge transfer: it's our goal to be made redundant.

Agencies, on the other hand, like to stick around. I personally cannot see the value in a retainer-based relationship for a CX function when the ability to provide value to your customer is so critical to the success of your business.

Whilst CX agencies can help with critical functions and in temporary roles, outsourcing your CX is akin to outsourcing your CEO: it's just dumb business.

A CX consultancy works, but there needs to be an end-goal of capability transfer into your organisation and an accountability to results.

Where does CX fit in?

The answer, it turns out, might be more varied than initially thought. For mine, there are three possible approaches:

  1. Product Management owns CX;
  2. Marketing owns CX;
  3. CEO owns CX (and creates a culture of customer-centricity and accountability).

How do we get there? That's for another Friday afternoon's pondering session, but in the meantime, you can always hit me up to see how we do it at Tiny.

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